Iraq Oil Report's Daily Brief compiles the most important news and analysis about Iraq from around the web.

Months After ISIS, Much Of Iraq’s Mosul Is Still Rubble

Jane Arraf writes for NPR:

Ziad Abdul Qader came back to his house in the Iraqi city of Mosul recently to find a pile of charred human bones in the courtyard. He'd seen the bodies of the two ISIS fighters when he came to check on the house months ago and hurriedly left. When he returned in mid-February, they had been set on fire.

"A group was going around burning bodies because they were worried about disease," he says.

He plans to shovel the bones into a bag and throw it in the trash. The macabre pile is just another obstacle for the former shop owner struggling to repair his damaged home eight months after U.S.-backed Iraqi forces drove ISIS from Mosul.

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Terror, Online And Off: Recent Trends In Islamic State Propaganda Operations

Charlie Winter and Haroro J. Ingram write for War on the Rocks:

In 2015, when the Islamic State (ISIL) was at the peak of its propaganda activities, it had dozens of official outlets churning out hundreds of unique media products each week, framing its caliphate proto-state as a utopian alternative to the global status quo—a blissful place of stability, piety, and sunsets.  However, as the years progressed and the coalition and its partners continued to advance in Syria and Iraq, its strategic communication operations altered course, becoming both less varied and less plentiful.

One of the first signs of their changing fortunes came in mid-2016, when the caliphate’s audio-visual capabilities temporarily dropped off a cliff online, its propaganda dissemination network on the Telegram app failing almost simultaneously. In the aftermath of this collapse, the group recovered, continuing to make propaganda (and lots of it) and adopting more resilient distribution tactics. Still, a new and less productive norm had emerged.

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Elections Are Coming in the Middle East—but Change Isn’t

Yaroslav Trofimov writes for The Wall Street Journal:

It’s election season in the Middle East. The fact that few seem to care about the outcome of these votes shows just how much authoritarian restoration and sectarian conflict transformed the region after the 2011 Arab Spring briefly stoked its peoples’ democratic hopes.

The Arab world's most populous country - Egypt - is holding a presidential election this month. Lebanon will pick a new parliament and government on May 6, its first national election in nearly a decade. A week later, Iraqis will go to the polls for the first time since Islamic State's spread and defeat upended the country's politics.

In none of these cases is the direction of the countries holding the vote likely to change significantly - either because the elections themselves have turned into a meaningless ritual (as in Egypt), or because the fractured nature of societies and the power of armed militias make electoral results secondary to dealmaking among sectarian and political factions (as in Lebanon and Iraq).

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Iraq MPs call for timetable for foreign troop pullout

AFP reports:

Iraq's parliament called for the government to draw up a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country in a resolution passed on Thursday, the speaker's office said.

"The Iraqi parliament expresses its gratitude to all countries which have supported Iraq in its fight against Daesh and calls for the government to draw up a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops," it said in a statement.

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Thousands of displaced Iraqis sent home despite risks: report

Reuters reports:

Iraqi authorities are forcing thousands of displaced people to return to their home areas too soon despite the risk of death from booby-traps or acts of vigilantism, a report by refugee aid groups said on Wednesday.

At least 8,700 displaced Iraqis in predominantly Sunni Muslim Anbar province were forced to return from camps to their areas of origin in the final six weeks of 2017, it said.

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Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Protesters, Journalists Detained

Human Rights Watch reports:

Kurdistan Regional Government security forces detained participants in December 2017 protests around Sulaymaniyah and forced them to sign statements promising not to criticize the government, Human Rights Watch said today.

The detained protesters were held for up to eight days without being taken before a judge and were forced, before being released, to sign commitments not to protest or be critical of the government on social media. The KRG’s Asayish forces also detained three journalists who were covering protests, apparently for their work.

“The Kurdistan Regional Government’s response to protests goes far beyond its right to arrest and prosecute people responsible for violence,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The KRG forces’ heavy-handed tactics appear to be an attempt to silence criticism despite the official narrative that the authorities respect citizens’ rights to speech and free assembly.”

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Thousands of Iraqis too scared to go home because of ISIS stigma

Emma Batha writes for Reuters:

Hundreds of Iraqi families forced to flee last year's fighting in Mosul are being prevented from returning home by their communities because they had a relative who joined Islamic State, an aid worker said on Tuesday.

Communities are also barring some families from accessing aid for the same reason, said Omar Ali, Iraq country director of British charity Human Appeal.

Others have had "ISIS family" daubed on their old homes, jeopardising their safety, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the Bond international development conference in London.

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Baghdad’s first female bookseller breaks barriers

Rachel Elbaum writes for NBC News:

Along one of Baghdad’s oldest streets, a new bookstore is making waves — not for the titles it sells but for who owns it.

Bara’a Abdul Hadi Mudher al-Biyati is the first woman to run a shop and publishing house on al-Muntanabbi Street, home to the Iraqi capital’s historic book market.

Named after a 10th century Iraqi poet, al-Muntanabbi Street is the literary heart of the city, and until recently, its bookshops and stalls have been run by men only.

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Iraq’s ethnic, religious groups fragmented as elections near

Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sinan Salaheddin write for AP:

Long beset by toxic divisions, Iraq seems to be growing even more fragmented ahead of national elections scheduled for May, with Iranian influence set to grow and the minority Sunnis seething as they fend for themselves in areas of the country shattered by the three-year war against the Islamic State group.

The Sunnis, many of them in displacement camps, bore the brunt of the war's destruction and have been left so bereft that many don't even have the papers needed to register to vote. If they don't end up feeling the vote was fair, that could badly undermine the international community's goal of bringing about the more inclusive government critical to maintaining a unified state and avoiding a repeat of the IS disaster.

Adding to the volatile mix are the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, now even more politically involved, which are allied with but not controlled by the Shiite-led Baghdad government, and appear set to gain influence that would alarm many in the region trying to check the power of Shiite, non-Arab Iran.

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Baghdad extends flight ban on Iraqi Kurdistan

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraq on Monday extended a ban on international flights to and from the autonomous Kurdish region.

Tensions between Baghdad and Erbil escalated after the latter held an independence referendum in September that overwhelmingly backed secession from the rest of Iraq.

The ban, scheduled to be lifted on February 28, has been extended by three months, a senior official at Erbil airport said.

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